Doomed Waffle House Lottery Winner Tonda Dickerson: Where She is Today?

Evan Lambert

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Waffle House Lottery Winner

“The lottery is selling dreams, the kind of dreams not offered by the other games,” writes Don Catlin in The Lottery Book, the Truth Behind the Numbers. “When a player buys that lotto ticket, the period of suspense is long enough that they can hold that potential windfall in their hand and dream about all of the things that they are going to do if their lucky day arrives.”

But what happens when multiple people have the same dream? Can they share it?

In that very same book, Catlin delves into those instances where that lucky day comes and goes, changing lives, but leaving no one better off. One of his most fascinating case studies is Tonda Dickerson, an unlucky lottery winner whose life changed for the worse after she won $10 million in 1999. 

After she reneged on a deal with her coworkers to share her lottery winnings, she watched her life take a drastic downward turn — the details of which have transformed her into a cult figure.

It all began in spring of 1999 when Dickerson was working at an Alabama Waffle House. Her regular customer, Edward Seward, gave her a lottery ticket as a tip, as he often did with Dickerson and her coworkers. All he asked in exchange was that she buy him a new truck if she won. For some time, Dickerson and her compatriots discussed what would happen if any of them won the lottery thanks to Seward — the agreement was always to share the winnings.

But when Dickerson suddenly won $10 million from Seward’s ticket that year, she immediately proved her oath was non-binding. She took the money for herself.

Naturally, her former brothers and sisters-in-arms did not take kindly to this change and filed a lawsuit. At first, they won, but when Dickerson appealed the case, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the original agreement to share winnings was technically illegal gambling. Dickerson could keep the cash. She also didn’t need to give Seward his truck. Ultimately, the affair has been written off by Don Catlin as a failure to “get it in writing.” 

However, Dickerson’s lottery-related woes did not end there. In February 2002, her ex-husband Stacy Martin appeared in Jackson County, Mississippi, and forced himself into Dickerson’s pickup truck. Driving her across the county, he then threatened to kill her if she didn’t agree to share her winnings with him. That’s when Dickerson grabbed a .22 caliber pistol from her purse and shot him in the chest. Martin survived and neither of them was charged.

But Dickerson had unfortunately made the short-sighted decision to give away her lottery winnings to her various family members under the guise of a corporation, thus avoiding income taxes. Since this was considered a financial “gift,” she ended up having to pay even more taxes to the IRS, who hounded her for years to pay up. 

So where is she today? As confirmed by a source close to her, she’s living in Biloxi, Mississippi. While her children with Stacy Martin are still in the picture, she’s now remarried and goes by the name Tonda Dickerson Nava. Nowadays, she likes to travel, and she frequently makes trips around the country to see family and explore the great outdoors.

She also seems to be at peace with herself. Though she’s changed her appearance frequently over the years, she recently began sharing pictures of her younger self on her public Facebook profile, thus no longer hiding her identity. She also loves spending time with friends and family, the latter of whom can be quite protective of her. 

That’s probably to be expected, though, since she shared most of her eventual lottery winnings with her family members. She even had to work for a while as a poker dealer at a casino, though these days, after remarrying, she has more leisure time.

In the end, Dickerson’s story could have been much worse. For instance, she could have been like Urooj Khan, who was poisoned the day after he won $1 million in 2012. Or she could have been like Amanda Clayton, who died of an overdose just a year after winning $735,000. Or, worse yet, she could have been like Americo Lopes, who, unlike Dickerson, was forced by the courts to share his lottery winnings with the coworkers with whom he had made a deal. Then again, if Dickerson had done that, then at least some of her misfortunes would have never occurred. Sadly, no one will ever know.